Mr. Major Hits a Vein of Trouble

IN his hopes for a come-from-behind victory Nov. 3, President Bush often cites Truman's miracle win in 1948. But Mr. Bush's campaign strategists have actually been going to school on a much more recent political reversal of fortunes - British Prime Minister John Major's stunning reelection triumph last April. The opposition Labour Party had led in opinion polls literally to election eve.

The Major model has two sides, however. Bush has to wonder if he even wants a second term if travails await him like those besieging the prime minister.

Since the election little has gone right for Mr. Major. Like his American counterpart, Major is partly the victim of a deep recession over which he has little control. In his responses to the economic gales, though, Major has contributed to the perception that his policies and his party are in disarray. His approval ratings have sunk like a stone.

Twice now, the British leader has been forced to reverse important policy decisions under pressure of events or public criticism. Last month, after repeating Britain's commitment to the European monetary system of fixed currency-exchange rates, the Tory government abruptly dropped interest rates - effectively devaluing the pound - and pulled Britain out of Europe's monetary mechanism in order to pursue economic-stimulation measures.

This week Major made another about-face. Confronted with public outrage and threats of defection within his own party, he suspended announced plans to close 31 of Britain's 50 money-losing, state-owned coal mines and to lay off 30,000 miners, pending further review and a vote in the House of Commons.

Whatever economic sense the plan makes, it comes at a bad time, and it seems to include inadequate provisions for unemployment assistance and for retraining the affected miners.

Major's woes should remind Bush - and, for that matter, Bill Clinton - that winning is only a start. Then comes governing.

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